How Florida State Supports the Pipeline of Special Educators

Josh Duke

Three newly funded multimillion-dollar projects in the Florida State University College of Education will be directly addressing the shortage of qualified special education teachers faced by many school districts. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, each of these five-year training grants will train future teachers and university faculty to improve educational outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

“Like other states across the nation, Florida is experiencing astronomical increases in the number of students with disabilities. For example, between 2008 and 2015, the percentage of Florida students served under the category of autism increased by 158.4%,” says Jenny Root, assistant professor of special education in the College of Education. “What we realized is that not only do we need more teachers, but we also need more university faculty equipped with the expertise to prepare those teachers.”

Project RAISE and R2D2

Two of the training grants respond to the need for more university faculty by preparing doctoral students to take on faculty positions: Project RAISE (Research-based Academic Interventions for Students with Extensive Support Needs) and R2D2 (Preparing the Next Generation of Reading Disabilities and Dyslexia Researchers). Beginning in Fall 2020, five RAISE and five R2D2 scholars will join Florida State’s thriving inclusive and interdisciplinary intellectual community.

RAISE scholars will gain expertise in academic interventions for students who have extensive support needs, such as autism and intellectual disability. In addition to engaging in apprenticeship opportunities with national experts in programs like UNC-Charlotte, University of Kansas, and Vanderbilt University, RAISE scholars will also participate in national policy and advocacy events with the Higher Education Consortium of Special Educators.

Meanwhile, R2D2 scholars will gain expertise in reading disabilities and dyslexia. “There has been a sharp increase in the number of states seeking to reform education for students with dyslexia by passing dyslexia specific statutes,” says Nicole Patton Terry, Olive & Manuel Bordas Professor of Education and associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research. “However, these legislative considerations have outpaced the dyslexia expertise found among most school personnel, graduating preservice teachers, and even faculty in the university.” Responding to this challenge, R2D2 scholars will gain a graduate certificate in dyslexia from the University of Florida.  They will also participate in apprenticeship opportunities at the Florida Center for Reading Research, where multiple research projects are focused on individuals with reading disabilities, including the Florida Learning Disabilities Research Center.

After four years of intensive mentorship and apprenticeship, RAISE and R2D2 scholars will graduate ready to find success as faculty members in higher education as researchers, university teachers, and leaders in the field. In addition to earning a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Florida State’s College of Education, these 10 doctoral students will also receive a competitive $30,000 stipend, full tuition, health insurance, travel funding and more. Ideal candidates for these training fellowships will have prior P-12 teaching or clinical experience with struggling learners including students with disabilities. Scholars must also commit to study full-time on campus and to pursuing a faculty position at an institute of higher education after graduating.


While Project RAISE and R2D2 aim to produce faculty for future teachers, the third project will train practicing teachers and clinicians to work with students with developmental disabilities. The K-12 Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (KiDDs) project is a collaboration between Florida State’s School of Communication Science and Disorders and special education faculty members at FSU and Florida A&M University. Beginning in Fall 2020, 45 KiDDs scholars will complete graduate training to become special educators, speech language pathologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists. By infusing coursework within the four respective master’s programs, KiDDs scholars will gain in-depth disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to serve students with disabilities. Moreover, through specialized seminars, family-professional partnerships and hands-on joint practica experiences in authentic contexts, KiDDs scholars will graduate ready to work on multidisciplinary educational teams to develop, implement, evaluate and disseminate evidence-based and culturally responsive practices.

Collectively, these projects aim to make a difference in the lives of students with various disabilities. As the need for experts and specialists grow, graduates from these projects and programs will help lead the conversation and improve the lives of all students. “The College of Education is committed to addressing the needs of all students,” says Damon Andrew, dean of the College of Education. “We’re confident that these new projects will help equip the next generation of teachers and researchers with the skills to ensure student success.”

All three programs will begin accepting applications immediately, with students starting in Fall 2020. Those interested in applying to Project RAISE should contact Dr. Kelly Whalon. Those interested in applying for R2D2 should contact Dr. Sonia Cabell or Dr. Nicole Patton Terry.  Those interested in applying for KiDDs should contact Dr. Jenny Root or Dr. Kelly Whalon.